Andrew Savage lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn with his cat Frida. He operates the record label Dull Tools and is a member of Parquet Courts.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Portland, Oregon’s Eat Skull, a band that I could always rely on to be refreshing and uncompromising. Eat Skull surfaced with the release of their Siltbreeze debut Sick to Death, coming out right at the beginning of 2008’s lo-fi craze that welcomed anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of multi-track recording. Most bands (as is the case in any trend) were forgettable, but for Eat Skull it just seemed like a right-place-right-time sort of coincidence. The band’s musical heritage owed much to New Zealand’s legendary Flying Nun label, Slay Tracks-era Pavement and of course Siltbreeze’s ’90s catalogue. Fitting, then, that this record comes by way of Woodsist, the label that can be credited, somewhat, for creating the climate in which Eat Skull came to be.
The first thing that sticks out about the band’s latest release, III, is that Eat Skull has considerably scaled back the aggression that gave the band their edge on 2008’s Sick to Death and the following year’s Wild and Inside. This becomes apparent right away with the first track, the melodic jammer “Space Academy.” Which is not to say that record has no attitude. III is a much more spacey affair, sounding like a natural progression from Wild’s closing track “Oregon Dreaming.” I hesitate to describe the album as psychedelic overall — that word being one of the more abused in music writing — but, sure, it’s there.
One could compare the arc of Eat Skull’s output to that of Columbus’ Psychedelic Horseshit, who also boast releases on Siltbreeze and Woodsist. Psychedelic Horseshit’s first LP came out at the same time as Sick to Death, on Siltbreeze, and both records are examples of outsider music created by true-blue weirdos. Eventually, Eat Skull’s peers from the Buckeye State started settling down into a damaged dub sound that, while not as sonically intense as their previous material, still held on to the same charisma that made both bands so interesting.
Anyway, the weirdo noise element is still present throughout III. Even amidst its poppiest moments in tracks like “Dead Horses,” there is a layer of deliberate ugliness that keeps things from becoming too friendly. At some point, and it’s unclear exactly when, indie rock forgot how to be confrontational. Even in Guided by Voices’ more saccharine moments, there is still an element of rawness and imperfection that reminds you that this is not just your average pop band. Eat Skull have mastered the same technique here. Some songs sound quite lonesome, like the melancholic “Summer Inside” and “Stupid Moon” (one of two songs on the record with a lunar reference). Listening to the closing track “Catch Em Before They Vanish,” I conclude that III is a great, drunken jammer to be played in the final hours of the day. Not my favorite in these guys’ catalogue, but a worthy volume to be sure.